By Mira Prinz-Arey, James Solomon and William O’Dea
It’s been 10 years since Superstorm Sandy devastated our communities and revealed how vulnerable we truly are in the face of extreme weather events. The hurricane caused tens of millions of dollars in damages to Jersey City and Hudson County and lost wages to our residents — not to mention the unforgettable and lasting emotional toll the storm had on New Jersey, especially those who lost their homes or loved ones.
We now know that Sandy was turbocharged by climate change, which added an additional $8 billion to the storm’s damages, according to one study. We also know that other climate disasters like catastrophic flooding and dangerous heat waves are projected to intensify and continue to threaten our infrastructure, public health and safety. Protecting our communities from this new climate reality will come at a steep price. One study estimated it will cost more than $505 million to protect property from sea-level rise in Hudson County alone.
We believe it’s flat wrong to ask regular people who are trying to get by to pay for these costs, while the multibillion-dollar corporations fueling the climate crisis pay nothing.
That’s why, as local elected officials, we’re so thankful that Attorney General Matt Platkin and other state leaders have taken action on behalf of communities across New Jersey by filing a lawsuit to hold accountable those corporations that are most responsible for creating the climate crisis and that spent decades spreading misinformation to protect their enormous profits while the rest of us pay the price.
New Jersey’s lawsuit seeks to make five megapolluters — ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP and ConocoPhillips — and their top trade association pay their fair share of the damages they knowingly caused so that our taxpayers and municipal budgets won’t have to shoulder it alone.
As the complaint explains, these companies had some of the earliest knowledge — produced by their own scientists — of the “catastrophic” consequences that unlimited use of their fossil fuel products would have. Instead of sounding the alarm — and helping to avert that catastrophe — these oil and gas corporations spent decades waging campaigns to deceive consumers, media and lawmakers about the role burning fossil fuels plays in causing climate change. That deceptioncost us precious decades in the fight against climate change. Still today, fossil fuel companies are targeting New Jerseyans with misleading advertisements touting their so-called commitments to climate solutions, which studies and an ongoing congressional investigation have shown are simply more lies and deception.
This evidence is what led the three of us and nearly all of our colleagues on the Hudson County Board of Commissioners and the Jersey City Council to pass resolutions that urged state leaders to take legal action to hold these fossil fuel companies financially accountable for their role in the climate crisis and to ensure that the cost to protect our communities does not fall solely on our residents. With the filing of a statewide lawsuit seeking to recover those costs from the biggest fossil fuel polluters, we — and other officials demanding accountability — feel like our calls have been heard. We were extremely heartened to hear Attorney General Platkin pledge that his office “will work tirelessly to make sure these companies pay every last dollar for the harm they caused.”
Whether it’s Big Tobacco or Big Oil, New Jerseyans of all political beliefs should agree that when a corporation sells a harmful product and lies about it, they must be held accountable. While our communities are forced to make difficult decisions and pray that each next storm is not another Sandy, oil and gas corporations continue to fuel the climate crisis and rake in record profits. As they fleece Americans at the pump and do everything they can to keep us hooked on their fossil fuel products, ExxonMobil just made nearly $20 billion in profits in the last three months.
State policymakers must continue the urgent work of transitioning us toward cleaner and cheaper energy. But it’s also time to make polluters pay their fair share of the mess they already made. Thanks to A.G. Platkin and others, New Jersey will now have its day in court to fight for the justice we deserve.
Mira Prinz-Arey and James Solomon are members of the Jersey City Council, and William O’Dea is a Hudson County Commissioner.